Madame Sherri Castle Ruins

May 6, 2009 — I'm kinda pissed at Native Americans, at least the ones that populated the East Coast. They never really invented stonemasonry, and our lives have been impoverished as a result.

In other countries, it seems like you can’t even go to the supermarket without passing some majestic ancient ruin or impressive standing work of culture left over from past civilizations. Easter Island has its giant heads, the lower Americas and Egypt both have pyramids, Europe has its castles and stone circles, the Middle East has its temples, and the Far East has a wall large enough that you’d have to dismantle all the ancient works of all the other past civilizations to procure enough materials to duplicate it.

The East Coast tribes had thousands of years to construct, wear out, and abandon lasting works, but instead spent all that time being overly mobile and nature-harmonious. As a result, we only get a few arrowheads scattered in the dirt, some drawings on random rocks, and a subset of rivers with hard-to-pronounce names.

Not that our European forefathers helped the cause much either in the few hundred years that they had to build something worthy of decay or abandonment. Just a few well holes and some stone cellars. Nothing inspiring or perspective-inducing. In their defense, though, that was just our budding moments as an American people. We’re still actively working on Stage One in the ruins-making process: Constructing new buildings.

However, there is one place that I know of near me that at least offers the illusion that illustrates the truth that reality itself, despite itself, refuses to illustrate in this part of the world...that we walk on ancients. If you assimilated that hideous sentence on the first try, you’re the winner. The place is called the Madame Sherri Castle Ruins, it’s located in Chesterfield, NH, and it’s of ridiculously recent vintage.

Although under other circumstances it probably would be, the great part about the ruins of Madame Sherri’s castle is not the fact that it was once the mansion retreat of a rich eccentric who liked to drive around in a fur coat and nothing else (that’s the story anyway, but if you get caught doing something like that once, you’re pegged in perpetuity for doing it all the time, or so I’m told), but that it ruined in such an aesthetically pleasing fashion, with a long stone staircase that ends mid-air among the forlorn shapes of stone chimneys, columns, and arches, all back-dropped by the beautiful 500-acre forest that bears her name.

Paris-born Madame Antoinette Sherri earned her fortune in show business as a theater costume designer in New York, but she earned her enduring fame in the Granite State. She built her stone mansion as a summer house sometime in the early 1930s, and she was known for the extravagant parties she threw there, as well as tooling around nearby towns in expensive cars and outfits, and generally acting like a character from an F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Over time, the mansion was neglected until a fire brought about its official demise just before Madame Sherri’s own in 1965 at the age of 84.

In this case, the pyromaniacs were right. The fire left behind a pleasing medieval-looking ruin, the most prominent feature of which is a set of curving stone steps that end abruptly some 20 feet in the air. In fact, the place looks more like a castle now in decay than it did at its peak, when it originally received the moniker. I was able to walk all the way up the stairway with little difficulty, but had to butt-slide down like a three-year-old to keep vertigo from being my murderer (that role is reserved). There was no handrail. Those are always the first to go in the ruination process.

The top floor of the ruin, a word which has completely lost all meaning for me since I started writing this article, bears a few surviving stone columns and chimneys that poke up from the house frame through a layer of soil and grass. The floor beneath that layer is filled with rocks and other cave-in detritus, and Madame Sherri would be happy to know that, judging by the beer bottles and graffiti we found inside, people still party there.

Even though the castle is surrounded by forest, there’s actually a parking lot close by for the convenience of hikers making natural use of the area. But you don’t have to hike to the castle itself, although that might make it a much cooler experience. I’m always fighting the battle between cool and convenient. They’re both things I want out of life, and they’re rarely compatible.

To get there from the parking lot, take the path to the right past the sign that represents the full extent of my research for this article and which includes a picture of Madame Sherri and her husband, Andre, who died before the castle phase of Sherri’s life. I know I should probably be using compass terms for directions since this is wilderness, but I still have trouble discerning my left from my right without focused, conscious thought, so trying to communicate in four directions will tie me up like an Octopus with Parkinson’s. I wish the part of that statement that wasn’t a joke was a joke. Drive behind my turn signals sometime.

From here the area goes either uphill or downhill, depending upon where I want to take this joke. It goes downhill, because there are no more intriguing ruins to clamber on. It goes uphill because the network of trails that lead away from the ruins go up the casually named Daniels Mountain. On one of these trails, the Daniels Mountain trail itself, you can even see over into the state of Vermont from your New Hampshire vantage point. The dotted line that is the official state boundary painted by Rand McNally is clearly visible.

Although the area around the ruins is veined with these picturesque hiking trails, the majesty of nature still takes a rare back seat here to this carcass of a castle. In fact, the paradox of beauty in decay that is so well-illustrated here is probably where I should have started this article instead of making clumsy statements about Native Americans, but it’s not a bad place to end up, either. Except that I don’t have anything to say about it other than those five words.

6 comments:

  1. I Have been to Madame Sherris Forest and my family lives in the area of Chsterfield. I would love to see more photos of the castle from back in the 1920s if you have any you can post.
    thank you,
    cindy

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  2. My cousins, who live and hinsdale, and I drove there at about 10 oclock last night. There was only 5 of us and 1 flashlight. I was the only one to climb the steps. My cousins say that if you scream out her name at the top, she will push you off. So, of course, as soon as i got up there i scream it. Sadly, nothing happened and i took the next 5 minuts trying to get down the steps safly.

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  3. I was recently at Madame Sherri's forest/castle and had an interesting experience. I went there to take some photography of the castle stairs that I had seen posted on Facebook and found it to be very intriguing. As I was wandering around the "ruins" I went into the foundation of the castle. It was slightly chilly as it should be being partly underground and the day was a bit chilly as well. However, I stood facing a hole in the foundation ceiling that I had seen from above and I just had a sense of a presence. I closed my eyes and in my mind just said to Madame Sherri that I was there to try to capture through my photographs the beauty that she created there and I hoped she didn't mind. As I stood quietly with my eyes closed I sensed she was standing to my right. Then it became ice cold around me. I felt so strongly that she was there that I reached out to my right just knowing that I could touch her. As I did that my friend who was with me was standing behind me but outside of the foundation. She said for me not to move. So I stood there with my arm reaching to my right. What my friend told me later when I exited the foundation was that she could see a shimmer, like the heat shimmer off a hot road in the summer...she saw that the minute I reached out to my right side and it was as if it was an outline of me touching someone. I then felt I needed to take some pics looking into the foundation from the outside. As I did I kept noticing there was something in the bottom left of my camera lens. I took out my lens cleaning cloth and cleaned my lens...attempted photos again. This happened repeatedly...with me cleaning my lens about 5 times. My friend laughed and said it wasn't anything to do with my lens. I just kept saying it must be a spot on my lens so kept cleaning. When I got home and downloaded my photos it was very odd. I had been using both my cameras all day while there. The camera that I kept seeing something on I had used frequently. In pics before and after the foundation pictures there was nothing on my lens. The ones looking into the foundation at first appeared like a half orb at the bottom left side of my lens but as I viewed the pics there appeared to be a mist coming from the foundation up to my lens culminating into the half orb. I do a lot of photography, sell my work, work digitally with photographs etc. and I cannot explain what happened with just those pictures. I have been told I am a "sensitive" and I have an uncanny "intuition"...I did sense someone there and that is why I reached out so I can only assume she was reaching back...at least I like to think so. It is an awesome place to visit, the hiking trails are great as is Indian Pond. The natural flora/fauna is fantastic as well. I was able to capture burgandy trillium, trout lilies and there were white, yellow and lavender violets (I hear a fav of Madame Sherri) around the foundation as well as on the trails. Definitely worth visiting and hiking if you are so inclined. I am headed back again for sure. I am hoping to take a model with me to walk the stairway and would love to do a photo shoot with her in period clothing. Enjoy if you go.

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    Replies
    1. It would be great if you could share your photos. Amazing story. And I believe you. There are many dimensions to this world and the world around us. Its nice when you can reach into another.

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  4. Madame Sherri was visited often by my great uncle...lol the stories of half naked parties were actually about women's 2pc bathing suits n shimmery sheer tea dresses..her parties were ritzy in the country estate. Her boudoir was styled after Marie antoinnettes ...simple elegance n ziegfield demeanor..

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  5. That was the dumbest introduction I have ever heard. Donyou kjow why they didn't have stone walls and permanent structures. To preserve the ladn they kwot to different areas. They didnt claim ptoperties so they didnt need borders.

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